Law and Conversation

May 23, 2011

Watch This: Lynda Barry on Poetry

Filed under: Books and writing,lawyers,poetry,storytelling — Helen Gunnarsson @ 5:37 pm
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Via Rachelle Cruz I found this inspiring video from the amazing and brilliant artist Lynda J. Barry on poetry.  In “The View From Here,” Barry sings Emily Dickinson to both Gershwin and Jobim, explains that haiku isn’t an exercise in 5-7-5 syllables, but a picture, and opines that poetry, like other arts, is alive and not only useful but essential.

I love Barry’s message. Today I had a great conversation with another lawyer who told me about how much music adds to his life. He’s one of a number of busy and successful lawyers I know who find time to play an instrument, paint a picture, or tell a story in poetry or prose and have a richer professional and personal life as a result. All of those creative pursuits are part of what makes us human.

Barry also says we can best understand poetry not by reading it, but by memorizing it, and that music can help. Her video from The Poetry Foundation is well worth eight minutes of your time.

I urged everyone a while ago to read some poetry every day. What are you reading, or playing, or writing that’s not for work today?

November 10, 2010

The! Greatest! Of! Lynda! J.! Barry!

Monday’s Read This! post urged everyone to read Lynda J. Barry’s amazing comics and graphic novels.  All of her books enthrall me, but today I’m choosing three to highlight.  (On Wednesdays from now on, I’ll be posting reading recommendations around a particular theme.  For brevity’s sake, I’m limiting myself to three books or stories in other media in these posts.)

1)  Girls And Boys.  Seattle:  The Real Comet Press, 1981.  Very early Barry.  Tragically out of print, along with other collections such as The Fun House (New York:  Harper and Row, 1988), Big Ideas (Seattle:  The Real Comet Press, 1983), and Everything In The World (New York:  Harper and Row, 1986).

2)  The! Greatest! of! Marlys!  Seattle:  Sasquatch Books, 2000.   Middle, mature Barry, exploring feelings from and about childhood on the wrong side of the tracks.

3)  What It Is:  Do You Wish You Could Write?  Montreal:  Drawn and Quarterly, 2008.  Barry today, using cartoons, water colors, collages, and text to explore creativity.  The colors and movement of her art remind me of William Blake’s illustrations of his poems, “Songs of Innocence and Experience.”

I love Barry’s work so much that I’ve already fudged my self-imposed limit of three books to recommend on Wednesdays by sneaking a few extras in under #1.  

I highly recommend listening to and/or reading interviews with Barry, in which she speaks eloquently and articulately about art.  I’ve listed a few in my Monday post, including one from November 4 on CBC’s Q.  In that interview, Barry said she believes art serves a biological function:  it helps us make difficult or unbearable situations bearable.   “[Stories] can’t transform your actual situation, but they can transform your experience of it.”  (“What It Is,” p. 40.)  Unfortunately, she continued, around the age of 9 or 10 children start thinking they’re not good enough to continue drawing, and they stop.  In “What It Is,” and now in “Picture This,” Barry provides exercises that she uses in her workshops for renewing the creative impulses that we all retain.

There’s lots of room for divergence on Barry’s greatest works.  Barry fans, which of her books are your favorites?

May 26, 2009

Fun with words

Filed under: Books and writing — Helen Gunnarsson @ 11:58 am
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I learned in high school, from a wonderful teacher, Peggy Larson, that dictionaries’ roles are both to describe and prescribe.  I’ve always favored prescribing over describing, but overemphasizing the prescriptive role can stifle creativity and be the equivalent of donning blinders to some marvelous works of literature.  So I enjoyed Bryan Garner’s thoughts on “Morphological Deformities” in today’s “Garner’s Usage Tip Of The Day,” a free daily e-mail newsletter to which I subscribe (and you can, too, by visiting ):

 In some philologists’ view, one does not combine the inseparable particle “dis-” with nouns to form English verbs (e.g., “dismember”) because it is impermissible by Latin morphology. In Latin, “dis-” was joined only with verbs to form privative verbs (e.g., “disentitle,” “disregard”).

BUT ….

It’s preposterous to contend that Latin morphology should govern English morphology…..Our playfulness and inventiveness with morphemes like these are what makes English such a vital language.

Garner’s commentary made me think of some writers for whom playing with English was a huge part of their greatness:  Lewis Carroll (think “Jabberwocky,” in particular) and Theodore Geisel, a/k/a Dr. Seuss (whom I think should have received a Nobel Prize for literature—he combined genius with words with genius for drawing with genius for storytelling with genius for poetry), for example.  I also thought of C.S. Lewis, who told great stories in his Chronicles of Narnia and made up the wonderful Marsh-wiggle creature, with an equally wonderful name, Puddleglum, not to mention Rumblebuffin the giant, Mr. Tumnus the faun, and, of course, Aslan the lion.

 I forwarded the Garner e-mail to a writer friend.  Showing her own amazing creativity, she wrote back “I make up words all the time.  It’s funnisher than being all rulesticky.  🙂 ”

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